2011 Ducati Diavel | First Ride

Ducati still doesn’t make a cruiser

Dee-AH-vul: it means ‘devil’ in the Bolognese dialect of Italian… and to _Cruiser _readers, it will no doubt live up to its name. The hate mail comes on hot and heavy whenever we feature a Ducati in these pages, so we’ll keep this brief. The gist is this: though Ducati thinks they have themselves a cruiser, we can confirm that this is abundantly not true.

Cruisers do _not _have 163 (claimed, crankshaft) horsepower, traction control, steel trellis frames, or anything that can be described as a “tail section” instead of a fender. Ducati will tell you it’s got a relaxed riding position with forward-placed controls, a raked-out front end and a long wheelbase. These statements are true, but only if you add the phrase, “for a Ducati” to the end of them.

This is not a cruiser based on some romanticized 1950s nostalgia, this is a muscle bike based on lines and attitude. Ducati’s designers literally took the lines of a Superbike, a Monster, and a cruiser (their drawing looked like a Harley Rocker) and merged them to get the basic outline for the Diavel. It’s a sport motorcycle you sit in, instead of on, thus splitting the difference between a laid-back cruiser stance and the “attack position” favored on sportbikes.

Predictably, Ducati made a Ducati.

Starting with the motor out of their 1098 Superbike, for instance, might sound like a really bad idea, but two things make the translation easier for Ducati. First, the 1098 is a twin cylinder motor. Just like the 45-70 degree twins found in most cruisers, this 90-degree “L” twin has nice, widely-spaced and tractable power-pulses. But even with the inherent friendliness of a twin, a highly-tuned superbike motor wouldn’t be quite right for a cruiser (or musclebike, or whatever they’re calling it) without some serious de-tuning. Compared to the Superbike engine, this iteration is tuned for more torque, with less overlap in the cams. But if anything, that should make it less easy to ride around town—with the hits coming hard from the bottom of the rev range.

Thankfully, the same engine management wizardry that helps Ducati Superbikes wring every ounce of power out of the motor can also be used to tame a beast like this one. Unlike most other bikes, with one state of tune, the Diavel has three customizable settings. The settings here are Sport, Touring, and Urban. Sport is hard-hitting, hair-trigger power, with unlimited output. Touring is soft-hitting power with unlimited output, while Urban is soft-hitting power, and restricted to “only” 100 horsepower. The engine output management settings are coupled to Ducati Traction Control, which—depending on the setting—will keep the bike from spinning its rear tire or wheelieing. In stock configuration, Sport mode is set to 1, Touring to 3, and Urban to 5. In theory, a setting of “1” would allow a bit of front wheel lift before cutting power momentarily, while “8” (the maximum) would cut in any time the front end got light or the rear slipped at all.

The Diavel also has ABS along with high-spec braking components, so whether on the gas or on the brakes, there are few bikes as well-protected as this one.

Rather than looking to make compromises in performance, Ducati decided to work the strengths of their new hybrid vehicle. The longer wheelbase, torquey engine and huge rear contact patch made the Diavel, according to Ducati, the hardest accelerating Duc. Though it shares motor configuration with the Multistrada adventure bike, it actually makes more power, thanks to a larger and freer-flowing intake and exhaust. When Buell made H-D’s Sportster into a sportbike, they got extra ponies the same way—with a bigger exhaust can and intake.

Stylistically, the Diavel is all sportbike. The design team can talk about “its lines” all day long, but it still looks like a sportbike. I’m a little more than average-sized and as you can see, it looks small under me. That said, just like other bikes with midmount pegs, the compact position is actually quite comfortable for a longish ride, but the seat needs some work.

The vertical strips that function as turn signals in the front and both turn signals and brake light in the rear are nicely integrated, as is the exposed 240-section rear tire. The aluminum intake scoops also effectively conceal a pair of radiators. Detailing is top-notch, with internal wiring, and a variety of well-done finishes, and Ducati even hid the carbon canister under the tank cover—yet there is still room for a 5.3 gallon tank.

The Carbon version replaces the steel covers and fenders with carbon fiber, adds black DLC-coated fork tubes, and upgrades the wheels to Marchesini forged rims.

And riding the bike is a revelation. The three modes make for three distinctly different riding experiences. Urban actually worked best on tight roads with questionable traction, making for worry-free riding, even on the side of the tire. Touring was easily the mode I liked most. The lazier throttle response is perfect for even fast cruising, as you don’t have to concentrate on throttle control to have a never-ending stream of power at your right fist. The truly cool part was being able to try all the modes on a given stretch of road, changing between them in seconds.

Sitting in a fairly cruiser-ish riding position, I needed to recalibrate my brain to trust the immense capabilities of this bike. I could attack corners faster, lean farther, and get on the throttle as hard as I liked. The chassis actually works better on the side of the tire, closer to the full 41-degree lean, as I found out toward the end of the day. This confirms its non cruiserishness.

But perhaps the Diavel’s purpose isn’t to horn in on Harley territory, so much as to try to stop older riders and get them to stick around…while simultaneously attracting a younger crowd more focused on performance.

If anything, the closest thing to the Diavel would be Star’s VMAX. The Ducati’s price advantage comes from using an existing motor and traction control package, while the ‘MAX has all unique components.

The Diavel is a very different-looking and riding motorcycle, so speed junkies of the world have a little more choice. We’d love to test the Diavel and VMAX head to head, but you guys don’t like Ducatis…right?

2011 Ducati Diavel (Carbon)
Base Price: $16,995 ($19,995)
Type: Liquid-Cooled, 90-degree L-twin
Displacement, bore x stroke: 1198cc, 106x67.9mm
Valve train: DOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
Transmission 6-speed
Overall length: 88.9 in.
Wheelbase: 62.6 in.
Dry weight (claimed): 456 lb.
Seat height: 30.3 in.
Rake/trail: 28 deg./5.12 in.
Fuel capacity: 5.3 gallons